FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The New York Jets opened 2021 NFL training camp on Tuesday at their Atlantic Health training center. Here's a closer look at a few storylines:
Are the Jets rushing rookie quarterback Zach Wilson into the lineup?
Yes, but it's not like the Jets are the outliers. Four of the past eight quarterbacks drafted in the top five, dating to 2016, were opening-day starters as rookies. At this point, the Jets have no choice, as they opted not to bring in competition for Wilson. General manager Joe Douglas was a member of the Philadelphia Eagles' front office in 2016, when they traded quarterback Sam Bradford at the end of the preseason and decided to roll with Carson Wentz. The QB experienced the typical rookie growing pains before becoming an MVP candidate for the Eagles the following season. Douglas is using that experience as his guide.
Despite a ton of first-team reps in the spring, Wilson needs seasoning. He has a quick release and deceptive athletic ability, but he faced a weak schedule at BYU and saw a lot of vanilla coverages. The coaches say he's a sponge, and they will do everything possible to put him in quarterback-friendly situations (a run-first, play-action pass mentality), but it still amounts to on-the-job training. It will get bumpy, but the Jets are prepared to ride it out in what looms as a transition year. With low outside expectations, Wilson and the offense can grow together in 2021, setting up a long runway into 2022.
Can Corey Davis be the true WR1 the Jets have been missing?
The Jets haven't had a 1,000-yard receiver since Brandon Marshall in 2015, the longest drought in the league. They're paying Davis to be That Guy, but he was a WR1 in only one of his four seasons with the Tennessee Titans -- 2018, when he produced a modest 891 yards. He was overshadowed the past two years by A.J. Brown, who drew most of the coverage. Consider: When Davis had Brown on the field with him (557 plays), he made 53 receptions for a 16.1 per-catch average. When he didn't have Brown (137 plays), Davis averaged 11.0 yards on 12 receptions.
This is his chance to silence the cynics. The Jets' system is built for Davis, who amassed 506 of his 985 receiving yards on play-action passes (seventh most in the NFL). He has a knack for getting beyond the linebackers and burning opponents on deep "over" routes off play-action, a staple pass play in the West Coast offense. Davis is also one of the best on contested catches, which will help Wilson on tight-window throws.
Will mammoth left tackle Mekhi Becton be a star or eat himself into mediocrity?
Becton reported to camp in "fantastic" shape, according to coach Robert Saleh said. Becton wouldn't reveal his weight, except to say he met his goal. His weight became a big story in minicamp, when he sat out because of a foot injury, and Saleh hinted the left tackle needed to focus on his conditioning. Becton, who weighed 363 pounds at the scouting combine in March 2020, was in the 380 neighborhood at the end of last season.
He’s a special talent, dominant at times as a rookie. Becton said he was good last season, but expects to be great in 2021. Because of the position he plays, the "Big Ticket" is a big key to the season. Becton, who missed the equivalent of nearly five games last season, needs to save the pancakes for the field. As for that foot injury, he's still getting treatment, but he insisted he's fine and will practice.
Will the Jets regret their game plan at cornerback?
Yes, it's a definite possibility. This was a thin position group at the start of the offseason, and New York made no significant moves to make it better. As former coach Rex Ryan used to say, the two positions that will get you beat the fastest are cornerback and quarterback. The current group of corners has 35 combined starts, and not one of them was drafted before the fifth round. The most seasoned player is Blessuan Austin, who has a tenuous hold on his starting job after a sub-par season in 2020. The player with the most potential is the Jets' 2020 fifth-round draft pick, Bryce Hall, who displayed promise at the end of his rookie season.
Essentially, the front office supplemented a young group of corners by adding more youth, including three late-round draft picks -- Michael Carter II, Jason Pinnock and Brandin Echols. Pinnock and Isaiah Dunn, a rookie free agent, will compete for outside spots. Carter has a chance to start in the slot. They need to add a veteran at some point, but the free-agent market is bare. The Jets haven't ranked in the top 20 against No. 1 wideouts since 2015, Darrelle Revis' last good season, per Football Outsiders. Don't expect that to change.